Pope John Paul II’s visit to Manila in 1995 was one of the most memorable experiences in my life. So, when I was given a chance to visit Rome to attend a business conference for work in 2006, I did not hesitate to stay behind for a couple of days to do a Vatican tour and see his tomb. By then, Pope John Paul II had just recently passed. I visited his tomb which was at the basement of St. Peter’s Basilica and paid my respects. I also employed a very Filipino custom of petitioning a dead relative with a wish they can take to heaven, known as “bulong” (translation: whisper). The wish I expressed to Pope John Paull II then was to take away my same-sex attraction.

At that time, my job required me to travel frequently. Aside from the business portion of the trips, I tried to make it a point to have casual homosexual encounters in every foreign destination I went to by going to bath houses and gay cruising places or hooking up via the net. That trip to Rome included a trip to Amsterdam, one of the gay capitals of the world. Engaging in a homosexual encounter there would have been a sure highlight. But somehow, I did not feel like having an encounter on that trip.

Fast forward to Dec 2013, at a family reunion during the Christmas holidays, a cousin of mine gave me a prayer booklet on the Divine Mercy. She explained that she had been a recent devotee and would like to spread the devotion to the Divine Mercy. At that time, I was not too familiar with the Divine Mercy devotion apart from the 3 o’clock prayer shown on national TV. I found it interesting, but I just left it in my car to pray it whenever it came to mind. I never did.

On Jan 2014, I attended my annual retreat and during spiritual direction, the priest suggested that maybe I needed a support group after disclosing to him my struggles with same-sex attractions. It was he who introduced me to Courage. At first, I was surprised to find out that there actually was a support group and a Catholic one at that. After the retreat, I set out to contact Courage and found out more about it through their website. I got interviewed and, after a few weeks, attended my very first meeting.

Joining Courage made me realize in a substantial way that I was not alone with my struggles. I have many gay friends but all of them seem to not be bothered at all with pursuing the homosexual lifestyle. I was well adjusted to my lifestyle, that is, I did not hate it and even embraced my gayness. But despite this self- acceptance, there was this lingering feeling that something was not right. In that very first Courage meeting, I met people who could relate to me and were going through what I was going through.

I would often describe that first Courage meeting to be a Visitation moment. I was like Elizabeth; something within me leapt for joy. I knew with deep certainty that this is where God wants me to be and this is how He answered my lifelong prayer. Since then, by God’s grace, I have faithfully attended our weekly Courage meetings.

Joining Courage also gave me the desire to pray more. While actively pursuing the gay lifestyle, God blessed me with the most precious gift of piety. I persisted in prayer and Sunday Masses even if most of my gay friends had given up on their Catholic faith. In fact, God allowed me to even deepen my prayer life despite my pursuit of the gay lifestyle. Out of a deep sense of gratitude for leading me to Courage, I decided to commit one hour a week to Eucharistic adoration. I had attempted to do this so many times in the past. But I would find myself dozing off some 5-10 minutes into it and would always give up. This time, I decided to use the Divine Mercy prayer booklet that my cousin gave me some months prior as the basis for my meditation. Since then, one hour of weekly adoration has been a breeze. So much so, that Eucharistic adoration has now become my daily date with the Lord.

A few months into my Courage journey, toward the end of April that year, St. John Paul II was canonized together with St. John XXIII, on Divine Mercy Sunday by Pope Francis with Pope Benedict XVI in attendance. (A day of Four Popes as some writers described it.) I read some articles that covered the proceedings and found out that St. John Paul II was an advocate of Divine Mercy. I smiled and pondered in my heart this wonderful gift of providence. It brought me back to my visit to Rome in 2006 when I prayed at the tomb of St. John Paul II. I knew in my heart that he heard my “bulong” then and sought the Divine Mercy to help me. I also realized that during his most memorable visit to Manila in 1995, the message he emphasized was: “Do not be afraid.” Such is Courage. Divine Mercy, I trust in You. St. John Paul II, pray for us.

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Edwin Valles is from Manila, Philippines and joined Courage Philippines as a member in 2014. In order to serve the Church better through the Courage apostolate, Edwin completed his Master’s in Theology at the Don Bosco School of Theology (DBST), an affiliate of the Pontifical Salesian University in Rome. His thesis is entitled ‘By His Wounds We Are Healed: A Pastoral-Soteriological View of Homosexuality Towards Accompaniment’. DBST created a modular webinar out of this thesis. He is an active speaker in his home country and overseas, including places such as Guam, Oman, Qatar, and the UAE. In addition to teaching Theology, Edwin is the host of a podcast entitled ‘Be Not Afraid’, featuring stories of same-sex attracted persons on their Catholic faith-journey. The podcast can be found at the Faith Watch channel on YouTube.  As the current coordinator of Courage in the Philippines, Edwin has helped to establish additional Courage chapters for men, a women’s Courage chapter, and an EnCourage chapter.

The opinions and experiences expressed in each blog entry in “The Upper Room” belong solely to the original authors and do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of Courage International, Inc. Some entries have been edited for length and clarity.